Uber and Lyft may lead to drops in personal car ownership, study says

Uber and Lyft talk a big game about the end of personal car ownership, but they’ve always lacked hard evidence to back up their claims. Now a new study has been released that lends some credibility...

Uber and Lyft talk a big game about the end of personal car ownership, but they’ve always lacked hard evidence to back up their claims. Now a new study has been released that lends some credibility to their futuristic predictions.

The study, compiled by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and Columbia University, focused on Austin, Texas, where ride-hail services like Uber and Lyft pulled services last year due to a local ordinance.

The study found that 41 percent of those surveyed turned to their own vehicle to fill the void left by Uber and Lyft; 9 percent actually bought an additional car for this purpose.

Rounding out the respondents, 3 percent switched to public transit and 42 percent switched to another, smaller transportation networking company. After the vote, informal community efforts sprung up and 12 app-based ride services entered the market. Many were short-lived, but some are still in business. (Uber and Lyft have since returned to Austin.)

"Our findings show that these ride-sourcing companies do change behaviors," said Robert Hampshire, a professor at UMTRI and lead author of the new study, in a statement. "While this study isn't generalizable to the entire city of Austin, or to other cities, it provides crucial insights that are relevant to policymakers.”

It’s an interesting snapshot, but far from the evidence of the wholesale demise of personal car ownership that has been the hallmark of ride-share company executive rhetoric for several years now. Last year, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told the World Economic Forum in China that this was the way the world was heading. “People will not own cars,” he said, “they'll have a service that takes them where they want to go.”

Lyft’s president John Zimmer agrees. He predicts personal car ownership in major cities will be extinct by 2025 — as long as autonomous vehicles emerge as a dominant force as most tech companies expect. “Every year, more and more people are concluding that it is simpler and more affordable to live without a car,” Zimmer wrote last year. “And when networked autonomous vehicles come onto the scene, below the cost of car ownership, most city-dwellers will stop using a personal car altogether.”

Uber and Lyft probably won’t lead to millions of vehicles left abandoned on the side of the road, but it has been shown to compliment public transportation. Compared to people who haven't used any shared modes of travel beyond public transportation, people who use Uber and Lyft own nearly half a car less — 1.5 versus 1.05 cars per household — according to a survey conducted by the American Public Transportation Association. And people who use ride-sharing services were more likely to also use public transportation and spend less on transportation overall than those that don't.